Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Project

Seeing as my name was plastered across your FB pages the entire month of May (Still waiting on word from the van committee!), I thought it best to bury my nose in work and keep a low social media profile for a bit. But as my time here is winding down (four weeks left), miraculously, I can see the finish line to my film project. I haven’t written much about it because, for the first two months, I did not see how I was ever going to get it done. 

The scope of the project was pretty broad to begin with. The goal was to produce the first comprehensive set of rehabilitation training videos in Nepalese. It took a few weeks of just hanging out and shooting random videos so people could understand who I was and what my competencies were. I shot a some videos at the hospital, but since I couldn’t post them without hospital administration approval, nobody saw them. I needed to publish a few on my own.

The first video I shot outside of the SIRC was a three-minute summary of the rebuilding of the National Disabled Table Tennis Center. I was shooting some interviews and b-roll (back-roll – the stuff they put up there so you don’t just see somebody’s face on the screen the whole interview) for my final trip summary when the project manager, architect, Deepak C.K. saw me and begged me to whip up a quick piece for the inauguration – which was in two days. I took a day off of work and cranked a piece that ended up being a huge success. When we presented the video to a crowd of athletes and V.I.P.’s they roared their approval. That led immediately to two more outside pieces (Amrita Foundation for Mental Health and Nepal Spinal Cord Sports Association) that really let people at the SIRC know what I was capable of producing.

Everyone was all smiles after our Table Tennis video got a screaming ovation at the opening ceremony.

Once those doors were opened, I was immediately overwhelmed with work. I’d slowly been filming  a project with the Occupational Therapy department, but it sat on the shelf while I did the off-site projects. But once they saw the potential, the video topics jumped out of the woodwork.

There was just one huge problem: I don’t speak a word of Nepalese. There are plenty of training videos on any number of medical subjects, but none are in Nepalese. The goal of this project was to create videos so therapists and care takers in the furthest villages of Nepal could easily learn without having to struggle with a new language.  When I proposed the project, I wrongly assumed there would be any number of English speakers who could help me out. What I quickly discovered was that most Nepalis have a little English; very few have a good working command of it. And those who do are obviously quite busy – because they’re the smartest people in the country.

The SIRC offered me one of their employees for two days a week, but this project didn’t have an on-off switch like that. It was getting to be harder to schedule her than it was the film shoots. She was more than competent, but she was also quite busy. When it took more than two weeks to schedule and shoot the first video, it became apparent that I would never be able to complete the project.

Then one day, a miracle walked into the SIRC. Actually 21-year-old Rownika Shrestha had walked in about a month earlier as the family care-taker for her father who, although a paraplegic for twenty years, had never been to rehab. We became fast friends mainly because her English is fantastic and she had more free time than an ambitious college senior wants to have. She asked me if I could teach her ANYTHING just so she could keep her mind busy when she wasn’t helping her dad. SIRC family caretakers move in with the patient and are there 24-7. I started showing her how to do some rudimentary web stuff, but our poor Internet connection is so frustrating that we had to abort.

Rownika reading her poem on the Bagmati River Cleanup at the 14th Anniversary of the SIRC.
(Yes, I am aware that she should be in front of the camera, not behind it.)
A few days later she saw me editing video and asked if I could teach her. “Sure,” I said. “It takes some time, but if you keep at it…” It seems now, that before I finished the sentence she was already competent. She had great computer skills and the video editor was just another piece of software to learn. I showed her the basics and in less than a week, she was uploading video clips, chopping them up, synching sound and adding graphics. She picked up the cameras like she’d owned them her whole life. When she showed up at the film shoots I could put down my bag; talk to the therapists and patients in the video; then turn around and both cameras would be mounted on tripods and ready for positioning.

Oh yeah – SHE SPEAKS NEPALESE! Great for me, but unfortunately for her, she has to do the lion's share of editing.  In three days I went from wondering if I was going to have to bail on the project to walking around scheduling as many film shoots as I could. It was like hoping for a million dollars and having a loot sac fall off of a truck at your feet.

So for the past month we’ve been cranking out one video after the next. We’ve donned ourselves “Kollywood Studios” (“K” for Kathmandu. “N” for Nepal doesn’t work because “Nollywood” has already taken by the Nigerian film industry.) and we are an instructional video production machine. We’ve produced nearly 20 titles including Hydrotherapy, Spinal Cord First Responder (back-boarding into an ambulance) and Wheelchair to Motor Scooter Transfer.   This week we’re putting the finishing touches on three videos from the wheelchair maintenance shop and that leaves us with only two left to shoot before we’re done!

Just a few Kollywood Production titles.

But we’re not retiring Kollywood so fast. We’ve also signed on to produce a video for the new Kathmandu Wheelchair Basketball League which runs through the month of June. . We’ve had our first meetings with the league organizers and discovered the same group also teaches English and offers vocational training to wheelers. So it’s a bigger project that just speed-editing hoops highlights. Since I’m going to be playing in the league and Rownika has refused to be a cheerleader for the SIRC squad, it’s her project. She’s lead and I’m the production assistant.

What do I do if she turns out to be a cruddy boss? 

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